Memoirs reveal great patriotismRecent tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang cast a new light on the increasingly hard-line stance among the country’s young generation against North Korea.
After the regime threatened war earlier this month, soldiers in South Korea’s frontline units close to being discharged extended their military service, and many reservists declared their patriotism via social media, emphasizing their readiness to fight.
The events also back up conclusions in the Military Manpower Administration’s newest publication, “Daehansaram Daehaneuro 2015” - which roughly translates as “Koreans and the Korean Way 2015” - a collection of memoirs written by soldiers who voluntarily served even when they could choose not to.
Among the soldiers with permanent residency in foreign countries, Cpl. Lee Wu-hyeon’s “Standing Between Take-Off and Landing” won first place. Lee, who lived in Hong Kong and Britain for more than 15 years, didn’t know much about the military when he started his service.
“For me, a person who is more familiar with Chinese culture, joining the Korean Army wasn’t an easy decision,” his story reads. “But I finally decided to serve my military duty here because I was proud of my Korean roots and I wanted to complete my duty as a Korean man.
“My brother and I started service together at the same boot camp, and we encouraged each other so much.”
He also expressed gratitude to the military, saying it gave him a chance to discover certain aspects about himself.
“I was proud that I was adapting to the collective culture of Korea and doing fine with my military service,” it reads. “Looking at a plane above the base, I realized that military service was like taking off toward a new land and landing in a familiar land at the same time.”
Chun Yi-jun, who resides in New York, also chose to complete his military duty. He recalled having to stay up at night because he didn’t know the Korean phrase for “lights out.”
“With permanent residency [in the United States], I never seriously thought about military service in Korea,” his piece reads. “But I was touched by two of my close friends who chose to join the Army voluntarily, so I applied, too. I wanted a chance to take a good look at myself and a chance to look at the national flag with that sense of passion.”
But for a man who had just finished his studies in New York not too long before, spending the night at boot camp was something else. “Sleeping shoulder to shoulder with 55 strangers at Army boot camp, the first night there was the most whirling night of my life,” he wrote.
“After 21 months of military service, I think now that it’s not a job just anyone can do, but something great and beautiful, and I’m proud that I’ve protected the country.”
Still, others went to even greater lengths to serve, among them Cpl. Choi Seong-won. “I was given reservist duty because of my flat feet, but I believe all Korean men should serve their military duty and I was going to be one of them,” his story read. “So I corrected my condition through treatment and joined the military as a driver.”
He also gave advice to those about to enter the military. “Don’t be afraid. You can do it, too. You should be thankful you have a sound body.”The administration plans to distribute some 2,000 copies of the memoirs to consulates in other countries and university libraries.
BY JEONG YONG-SOO, KIM BONG-MOON [firstname.lastname@example.org]